Each time I got out of rehab (I’m a repeat offender) the story was the same. I was only responsible for attending endless AA meetings and nothing else. I wasn’t expected to work or contribute to society in any fashion … just go to meetings. My family would handle the rest. So, they filled my car with gas and give me $20 a day for lunch … I had nothing to do but lunch drive and listen to endless sobriety talks. Dear God … it sucked!
They took control of my finances, my independence, my drive to do anything. By controlling every aspect of my life I was able to return to active addiction with no responsibilities and all the time in the world to do it. I lived on a Florida beach and was within walking distance of anything I wanted to do.
My family knew I was using and yet covered for me. I stole money and credit cards from purses and disappeared for days on end… no one said a word. My family believed they were helping and protecting me by enabling me to fly under the radar… as long as they could cover it up it was manageable. It wasn’t manageable… it was allowing me to die a slow miserable death. Enablers simply want to fix things they can’t. You can’t fix people … especially addicts. They have to handle that job themselves!
Alcoholics and addicts lie. Firstly, they lie to themselves. They are in denial and their minds refuse to see what they are doing to themselves. Maybe one part of them knows that they are addicts, but the drug has such a powerful grip on their minds and bodies, they continue to destroy themselves and others. “I can quit at anytime.” is a commonly heard from addicts.
Since the addict is lying to themselves, they are lying to others by default. And even more, they will lie, cheat, steal and manipulate anyone and everyone to keep the game going. Alcoholics and addicts can’t control themselves. The drugs they are using (alcohol is a drug) have taken over their lives. Addictions are physical, mental, emotional and spiritual. They are all consuming. Addicts are lost in their own private hell; a swirling mass of dark energy… thick and heavy.
Alcoholics adopt a language that promotes lying in a way that sounds very well intentioned. Their favorite word is, “probably.” This word implies intention where in fact none exists. An alcoholic who tells you they will probably do something is highly unlikely to do it. Using words like these provides them a loop hole – an escape hatch in which no absolutes are given and no promises made. The alcoholic relies on words and phrases like: possibly, maybe, would, could, should, I’d like to, I want to, I need to. These words mean nothing. They sound good but almost always lead to disappointment. Progressively, alcoholism blurs every line and impacts every interaction, every relationship, every part of the alcoholic’s world.
Alcoholics develop what counselors call “an external locus of control.” Progressively, everything is someone else’s fault. If their job is going poorly it’s because their boss hates them. If their marriage suffers then their spouse is unreasonable. If they fail as parents they will see their children as ungrateful. Everything and everyone becomes a reason to drink. The spiraling alcoholic will often say that they don’t even want to drink but that circumstances like their horrible job/spouse/kids “force” them to.
People who have never had problems with addictions can’t comprehend this. They say things like: “Why don’t they just quit?” Well, if it were that easy, many of the world’s problems would be solved. But it isn’t. It takes great strength and courage to overcome addictions to powerful drugs like alcohol, cocaine and heroin. Usually, the addict has to hit rock bottom before taking action to stop. Many addicts never stop. They just die.
The sad thing is that an addict doesn’t see they have a choice. At all times, we all have choices, even when we think that we don’t. We may not like our choices, but we have them. The addict can always choose not to use. That is not an attractive option for the addict because their body, mind and emotions are screaming for the drug.
If you want to destroy your own life with booze and drugs, go right ahead. That is your life and your business. But alcoholics rarely live in isolation. Addicts usually bring down others with them. It is your responsibility not to let them damage your life and your family. Alcoholics and addicts can be manipulative, self-destructive and dishonest. If you are involved with someone like this, you’ve probably learned that this has direct implications for you: It’s important that you learn to protect yourself from them, and not to enable them.
When dealing with addicts (as with all people), come from a place of compassion. An addict can’t control themselves. They are often suffering greatly. Compassion is not weakness. Sometimes you have to be a hard ass to be compassionate. Addicts won’t respond to anything else.
The classic example of enabling is a wife who mistakenly thinks she is helping out her alcoholic husband by calling in sick for him at work or making excuses for him … generally cleaning up the messes made by him, and helping him avoid being held accountable for his actions. Enabling can work in different ways, but basically it a when a person or a group shields another from the consequences of their inappropriate behavior. Silence can be enabling. If someone is doing something wrong, and you know it is wrong and you say nothing, you are enabling the other person’s behavior. You are part of the problem.
Be aware, the enabler may also be in denial, which means they are lying to themselves and others. There is a dysfunctional dance going on between the addict and the enabler. As always, the first step in making lasting life change is awareness.
Ask yourself this: Am I enabling this person’s behavior?